The Washington Capitals are used to making the playoffs. In fact, since 1982, the team has qualified for the National Hockey League (NHL) postseason in 29 of the past 36 years.
But advancing deep into the postseason? That’s an entirely different matter. Prior to this season, the Capitals failed to even make it to the conference finals in 26 of those 28 postseason appearances. They have exactly one Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history (in 1998), when they were summarily beaten by the Detroit Red Wings, in a 4-0 sweep.
But is this the year the Capitals final break through that invisible wall that keeps preventing them from finally adding a championship trophy to their list of accolades, and bring a championship home to a city that’s absolutely starving for one?
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For fans of the Capitals, such optimism would seem ludicrous, but at this point in time, it’s almost hard to think not think otherwise. For one, the Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL postseason for only the second time out of the 11 matchups those two teams have had against each other. The two-time defending Stanley Cup defending champion Penguins absolutely owned and tormented the Capitals for much of the 1990’s through the present day, with the Capitals finding ways to lose against Pittsburgh in the most painful of ways.
But not only did the Capitals defeat the Penguins, but they did so in rather resounding fashion. After losing game one of the series in the most heartbreaking of fashions (blowing a two-goal lead in the third period by allowing three goals in five minutes), the Capitals went on to beat Pittsburgh in four of the next five games, clinching the series in a pivotal Game 6 on the road.
Washington even flirted with disaster in their playoff opening series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, losing both their first two games at home after deciding to start backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer in the net. But after turning the job back over to battle-tested veteran Braden Holtby, the Capitals won eight of their next 10 games, including four straight against Columbus after spotting them the early 2-0 series lead.
But no player deserves as much of the spotlight for the Capitals success as embattled veteran Alexander Ovechkin. Already among the top 20 goal scorers in the history of the NHL, Ovechkin had been given the reputation of being a regular season scorer who would suddenly go silent in the playoffs, leading to people openly questioning whether they should trade the most beloved player in franchise history.
Ovechkin has silenced those critics with easily his best postseason of his career. In the 12 postseason games the Capitals have played to date, Ovechkin has tallied at least one point in nine of them – including five goals in six games against Columbus – despite opposing teams devoting their game plan to limit his offensive output.
All the pieces seem to be in place for Washington: experience in the net, offensive production from their best players, and a team full of big and rugged players with postseason experience.
As far as being time to fulfill the promise, it’s now or never.